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Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Officials sign resolution for cleaner lake

By Nancy Allen

Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin signs a resolution Friday at Wright Stat. . .

In a sign of solidarity, community members Friday signed a resolution supporting technology to clean up Grand Lake and hopefully lower levels of a toxin in the lake produced by blue-green algae.
"We're done doing studies, we need actions," said Brian Miller, assistant manager of Grand Lake St. Marys State Park. "We need to put action on the ground and turn our water quality around for our community."
One by one the following officials signed the document: Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin, St. Marys Mayor Greg Freewalt, Celina Mayor Sharon Larue, Lake Improvement Association President Tim Lovett, Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Craig Morton, Auglaize County Commissioner Doug Spencer, Lake Development Corporation member Greg Schumm and Wright State University Lake Campus representative Julie Miller. Also present were State Reps. Jim Zehringer, R, Fort Recovery, and John Adams, R, Sidney.
Zehringer said he supported the project.
A few weeks ago, officials from Mercer and Auglaize counties joined to form the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Initiative following a presentation by Findlay-based Streamside Systems. The company sells the sedimentation removal technology the group wants to test in the lake.
So far the group has raised roughly $80,000 toward the $500,000 needed to pay for a pilot test of the technology.
The test involves using two Airy Gators which put oxygen into the water and allow beneficial microorganisms to grow and eat nutrient-rich organic material in the sediment, and three sediment Collectors, steel devices placed on the bottom of a stream. The collectors use the energy of the water to move sediment up the collector's ramp and into a hopper. Once the hoppers fill, the sediment is pumped to a dewatering or disposal site.
The initiative group wants to have the technology installed in early April and test it through the summer.
If the test works, the plan is to approach state and federal agencies in an effort to leverage grants and other money to fund using the technology in the lake on a larger scale.
The plan calls for one Airy Gator to be placed in bays at Southmoor Shores and Park Grand Resort and one Collector each would be placed in Big Chickasaw Creek, Beaver Creek (in Montezuma) and in Barnes Creek.
Miller reported the Ohio EPA has brought in a consulting company, Tetra Tech, which will create a specificl action plan for the lake that incorporates the technology. The U.S. EPA is paying for the consultant.
Jared Ebbing, Mercer County Community and Economic Development director, said the city of Celina has applied for two Ohio EPA grants totaling $105,000 that could pay for one Airy Gator and also a floating wetland. The interconnected wetland mats are made of foam and contain holes in which aquatic vegetation can be planted. The growing plants act as giant sponges that remove phosphorous from the water. Excess nutrients, and particularly phosphorous, are what feeds the blue-green algae in the lake. Auglaize County also has applied for a $75,000 Ohio EPA grant to test a water circulating device called a SolarBee designed to decrease algae.
"We're approaching this (with the understanding) that we need to be able to raise the $500,000 without grants, but if we do get any grants, it will be icing on the cake," Ebbing said, adding that he should know in a couple months if the grants have been approved.
Officials with the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Initiative will continue to solicit funds toward the $500,000 in the coming weeks.
Local officials have been aware of the lake's water quality problems for some time, but last summer's announcement by state officials that an algae-produced toxin harmful to humans and animals had been found in the lake made finding a solution more urgent.
The lake's algae is fed by excess nutrients, most of which drain off predominantly farmland, the largest land use in the watershed, the Ohio EPA states. The algae is what gives the lake its characteristic green color and has been responsible for large fish kills.
Many lakeside businesses complained of lost revenues after the state issued an advisory and put up signs warning people to limit their contact with the lake.
Those at the signing Friday stressed that no one thing is going to improve the lake's water quality, but rather a combination of several things - including perhaps - the proposed technology.
"I don't think any one of these alone will solve the lake's problems, but used together I think they're going to have an impact," Ebbing said. "That's our goal as a community, to find solutions."
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